Across North American borders

By Razib Khan | August 25, 2010 10:11 am

There is a border across which fertility drops by a factor of two in North America (defined as from Canada to Panama). Specifically, one nation has a TFR of ~4, and the other ~2. Can you guess the two nations? You can find the answer in the charts below.

First, linear:

Now, log-transformed:

That’s right, TFR, Guatemala (4.15) → Mexico (2.21) → United States (2.05) → Canada (1.53)

(source, 2005-2010 estimates)

Here’s GDP PPP per capita:

United States ($46,400) → Canada ($38,000) → Mexico ($13,600) → Guatemala ($4,800)

This is why the Mexican-Guatemalan border experiences a great deal of traffic.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Data Analysis

Comments (14)

Links to this Post

  1. Mehr Geld, weniger Kinder « Aus dem Hollerbusch | August 27, 2010
  2. Anonymous | August 27, 2010
  1. Anthony

    Before seeing the charts, my guesses were Mexico-Guatemala or the state boundaries of Utah.

    Interesting that the income ratios US:Mexico and Mexico:Guatemala are similar – even if Guatemala were in demographic collapse, that income ratio would draw a lot of people across the border. (Ignoring second-order causal effects – could Guatemala *be* in demographic collapse with income that much lower than Mexico, etc.)

  2. @ Anthony: Why not? Any number of post-Communist countries with incomes as low can have low, even below replacement, fertility rates.

  3. Latifundiário

    If current trends continue, immigrants arriving from 2005 to 2050 and their descendants will account for 82% of the population growth in the United States during this period, according to new projections from the Pew Research Center. The nation’s racial and ethnic mix will change markedly by mid-century, the projections show, with the Hispanic share rising to 29%. Among non-Hispanic race groups, the Asian share will rise to 9%, the non-Hispanic black share will hold steady at 13% and the non-Hispanic white share will fall to 47%. The nation’s elderly population (ages 65 and above) will more than double in size from 2005 to 2050 and by mid-century will make up 19% of the total population.

  4. Tom Bri

    I lived in rural Guatemala for two years back in the early 1980s. Large families quite the norm, and lots of interest in moving to the US. Rural areas were experiencing land-starvation, not enough land for the sons to take up farming, so marginal lands being cleared and farmed, jungle, highland forests, steep hillsides.

  5. Yup, the population of Guatemala has doubled since 1980, not counting major emigration that didn’t get going until the last decade.

  6. John Emerson

    Mexico seems like a poor country to Americans, but on a list of all the countries in the world it’s about in the middle. Countries range in population from 100,000 or less on up to a billion, so you don’t necessarily know how much that really means, but they’re ahead of India, China, many ex-Communist countries, and many Latin American countries.

  7. Rupert

    The data explorer allows you to display individual country symbols on the graphs at sizes that are proportional to population. Try this link:|NIC:8:-47:|PAN:-120:8:|CRI:-19:25:&iconSize=0.5&uniSize=0.0015059033192247717#ctype=b&strail=false&nselm=s&met_x=ny_gnp_pcap_pp_cd&scale_x=log&ind_x=false&met_y=sp_dyn_tfrt_in&scale_y=log&ind_y=false&dimp_c=country:region&met_s=sp_pop_totl&idim=country:USA:MEX:GTM:HND:NIC:CRI:PAN:CAN&ifdim=country&pit=315532800000&hl=en&dl=en

  8. kurt9

    A thought just occurred to me. We hear throughout the blogosphere that Latino fertility in the U.S. is nearly 3.0, where as it is 2.2 in Mexico. What we don’t hear as often is that 30% of Mexico’s population is native American and that it is concentrated in southern and southeastern Mexico next to Guatemala. Since this Mexican population of Native American is probably the same ethnic group as that of Guatemala, is it not likely that they have similar fertility? If so, the rest of Mexico’s population (white and Mestizo) has fertility that is probably under 1.8 and possibly as low as 1.4, which puts them at Southern European fertility levels.

    Most of the recent arrivals to the U.S. look more native American than Mestizo. I visited Mexico last time 2 years ago. The Mexican people in Mexico looked a lot more “Caucasian” than the “Mexicans” in the U.S. Is it not likely that this explains the discrepancy between RECENT U.S. latino birthrates and those of Mexico?

    Quick digging around on the internet tells you that Guatemala is the central American country with the highest percentage of native American people. The rest are all mestizo with Costa Rica being a mix of white and mestizo (Costa Rican women are HOT!).

  9. RMPO

    “Interesting that the income ratios US:Mexico and Mexico:Guatemala are similar”

    That’s PPP GDP. The appropriate applications of PPP GDP are narrow and specific, and “PPP” is widely misused by people who think it means normalized GDP without understanding that there are numerous methods of calculation, all of which differ from one another, particularly across countries, and without realizing that it is typically a poor metric by which to compare countries, especially those with very different GDP compositions and levels of development.

  10. Most of the recent arrivals to the U.S. look more native American than Mestizo. I visited Mexico last time 2 years ago. The Mexican people in Mexico looked a lot more “Caucasian” than the “Mexicans” in the U.S.

    Could some of these recent arrivals be Central American rather than Mexican?

  11. kurt9

    Could some of these recent arrivals be Central American rather than Mexican?

    Probably both. Mexico’s development varies considerably by region. The southern and southeastern Mexico (Yucatan) is known to be poorer than the rest of Mexico (I have not visited these areas). I would not be surprised if southern states like Chiapas have similar standard of living to Guatemala. The rest of Mexico is developing quite rapidly.

    Something else I noticed during my last trip to Mexico was the lack of small children. I saw lots of teens and young adults, but not so many young children. Granted, I was in Puerto Vallerta, a relatively exclusive area of Mexico. Nonetheless, I noticed significant changes in Mexico’s culture compared to my visit during Christmas of 1984. For one thing, the young guys were a lot less “macho” than they were 25 years ago. Also, everywhere I went was much cleaner than my previous visit. They had rubbish bins everywhere so you did not litter. This was totally different 25 years ago when I saw litter everywhere. Domestic violence is less acceptable as well.

    American social conservatives complain about Mexicans changing our culture. I think Mexican culture is changing much more than ours is.


    Have you noticed similar change in Bangladesh’s culture?

    I see the CIA stats has Bangladesh with a 2.74 fertility rate. This strikes me as a significant change from the past.

  12. kurt, the cia is a touch old. the 2010 fert is below 2.5. it was closer to 6 in 1980.

    re: changes in bangladesh’s culture. i don’t know much about it except what you could read yourself. i visited in ’90 and ’04. the rise of the textile industry and common female employment was a big diff. (along with shift toward condensed natural gas). in the 1970s even modestly well off family members could afford whole families of servants. now even my wealthiest uncle had to drive relatively far into the country to find a young woman willing to take on such a job. roads are better so there is some surburban/country residence + urban work going on too.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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